15 October 2014 Rain

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I go to the post office and the Co OP,books sweep the lawn.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Park Honan – obituary

Park Honan was a scholar and biographer of great writers from William Shakespeare to Matthew Arnold

Park Honan: he was adept at sifting through sources to build a picture of the subject

Park Honan: he was adept at sifting through sources to build a picture of the subject

6:05PM BST 12 Oct 2014


Park Honan, the American-born scholar who has died aged 86, wrote scrupulously researched and often revelatory biographies of major writers across a range of periods; his subjects included Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Matthew Arnold.

He was a “man of letters” of a sort that is increasingly rare: he read widely, avoided “lit crit” jargon and addressed his books as much to the general reader as to the specialist. Honan passionately believed that a writer’s life, family, friends and social background could all shed light on the work. The squabbles over literary theory in British universities held no appeal for him, but he was far from being a stick-in-the-mud. He was a hugely adventurous scholar, whose works included, in 1987, an anthology of Beat poets (themselves highly experimental young men). He was devoted to teaching but had little interest in administration.

Moving to Britain in the late 1960s, Honan built a reputation as one of the leading scholars of Victorian literature . Then, as a professor at Leeds University, he reinvented himself as a Tudor historian, producing acclaimed biographies of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

He was a master at ferreting out detail from careful sifting of primary sources. He took between seven and 10 years to complete each biography, often writing all night while holding down academic jobs. Honan’s life of Matthew Arnold , published in 1981, established him as a serious literary biographer; it identified Mary Claude as the real woman with whom Arnold had been in love in Switzerland, the subject of his “Marguerite” poems.

Jane Austen: Her Life, which drew on previously unseen sources, came out in 1987; Kathryn Hughes in The Daily Telegraph wrote that it set “a daunting high-water mark”. Christopher Marlowe, Poet and Spy (2005), revealed for the first time that the gay playwright, unable to support himself through his writing, had become horribly tangled in obligations to his spymasters, which probably led to his murder aged 29.

Hobart Park Honan was born on September 17 1928, in Utica, New York, followed, 20 months later, by his brother William, later culture editor at the New York Times. Their parents were a thoracic surgeon, also called William, who died of a heart attack in 1935, and Annette Neudecker, a Southern belle who had been a school friend of Wallis Simpson. After her husband’s death, Annette rented a small house in Bronxville so that the boys could go to the excellent High School there. In 1946 Park left for Deep Springs, a tiny liberal arts college on a cattle ranch in the California desert, run by its 26 students plus a few teachers.

Park was fascinated by reptiles. “I adored rattlesnakes,” he recalled years later. “They sweetly and fairly warn you if you’re within 50ft of them – though when a horse drew to a quick stop once, I almost fell on a big rattler.”

He took on various jobs at the ranch, including that of garage mechanic, labour commissioner and slaughterer (the students had to slaughter their own meat). “My boots used to be awash in four inches of blood in the slaughterhouse. That helped to make me a pacifist.” After a day repairing the engines of Model A Fords in the garage, Park would read the works of Shakespeare, in the Variorum edition edited by the American scholar Horace Furness. This convinced him to read English instead of Law at the University of Chicago, where he went in 1948.

After graduating, he worked briefly at the Friendship Press in New York. One evening, Park’s brother introduced him to a French girl in a beret. It was Jeannette Colin – “a disturbing girl”, as Park put it. Their marriage in Manhattan in 1952 was a simple ceremony. “We stood for about half an hour in a queue of pregnant Puerto Rican ladies . Our music lasted 30 seconds. Someone lifted a needle from a scratched record, so that Here Comes the Bride stopped in mid-phrase; a clerk mumbled; we said: ‘I do’; and all was over in two minutes.”

Park Honan in the 1950s

Just as the Korean war was ending, Honan was drafted into the US army and, briefly, jailed as a conscientious objector. He spent a few hours in a cell with a forger, a Jehovah’s Witness and a man who had stabbed a postman. A judge agreed that he could serve as a stretcher bearer if needed and he was posted to France. Since under the GI Bill he qualified for a grant to complete his studies wherever he wanted, he decided to do his PhD on Browning at University College London (it was published as Browning’s Characters in 1961).

Returning to America he took teaching jobs, first at Connecticut College then at Brown University, Rhode Island. But when his friend the novelist David Lodge told him about a post as Lecturer at Birmingham University in the UK, Park jumped at the chance. He moved his family to Birmingham in 1968, staying there until 1983, when he was appointed Professor of English and American Literature at Leeds University.

It was at Birmingham that he produced his landmark study of Matthew Arnold and, before that, The Book, the Ring, and the Poet: A Biography of Robert Browning (1974). During the Leeds years, he completed perhaps his most ambitious work, Shakespeare: A Life (1988), which Stanley Wells, the leading British scholar of Shakespeare, considered the best biography in existence.

In his biographical technique, Honan was concerned to build a sense of immediacy or what he termed “presence”. He had a lifelong interest in drama and his work demonstrates a dramatist’s skill at bringing personalities to life. The scene in Christopher Marlowe in which the rakish young playwright is stabbed to death in a Deptford rooming-house is presented in vivid colours.

Among his other publications was Authors’ Lives: On Literary Biography and the Arts of Language (1990). He was one of the founders of the literary journal Novel. At the time of his death, he was half-way through a biography of T S Eliot.

Juliet Gardiner, Honan’s editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, described him as “persistent in his biographies and persistent in his friendships”. Park Honan and his wife had many friends and often entertained at their home in Leeds. Jeannette died in 2009. He is survived by their son and two daughters.

Park Honan, born September 17 1928, died September 27 2014


A male teacher writing on a blackboard ‘Parents are told good teachers mark books regularly, teach inspirational lessons, set homework, analyse pupil data to inform teaching and keep their knowledge up to date … A conservative estimate of doing a good job means spending 70 hours per week.’ Photograph: fStop/Alamy

The idea of a hit squad dispatched into so-called “failing schools” (Report, 13 October) should sound an alarm on a few counts. It signals the continuation of the use of force that engenders fear in urban schools, labelled not as challenging schools or, more pertinently, disadvantaged schools in local areas that usually rank high on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. It wages a propaganda war against teaching staff and multi-agency workers who are working extremely hard to try to combat exceptional social and educational inequalities in school communities that have suffered much from austerity policies. The charge of failure, code-named “inadequate” by Ofsted, is a political ploy to mask the effects in teachers’ classrooms of poverty and deprivation, which should be seen as mitigating circumstances when it comes to exam results, national benchmarks and floor targets.

This is a dangerous social experiment with these disadvantaged schools, overseen by the prime minister and led by authoritarian politicians like Michael Gove and now Nicky Morgan, who is seemingly content to carry on with a deliberate misrepresentation of the social realities of these frontline workers and subject them to intense policy pressures and sanctions, including job losses. More worrying, in the absence of adequate research-informed system support to meet pupils’ academic and social learning needs, is the power allocated to these politicians to shut down these schools, which are then cut adrift from the local authority and reopened as academies with corporate sponsors intent on profit-making and wealth creation. This then paves the way for global edu-businesses to come in and take over the nation’s state school system, which in turn raises serious questions about knowledge control and the control of teachers’ work, not to forget the fate of pupils from poor and deprived family and social backgrounds. The fallout from these vernacular forms of global neoliberal policies will echo down the 21st century, and as history has shown, there are dangerous precedents.
Professor Lori Beckett
The Winifred Mercier professor of teacher education, Leeds Beckett University

• I write as a retired headteacher who had thought that nothing that was proposed by this government could any longer surprise me. However, your front-page news about Cameron’s National Teaching Service has left me astounded by its complete lack of understanding of the ways in which children learn or should be encouraged to learn. In particular, the idea that the new service will introduce “standard punishments for bad behaviour”. No longer any need to treat children as individuals, then? Where are these “behaviour experts” to be recruited from, and if they are so special, why are they not already teaching?

When I was training to be a teacher, and while reading education for a degree, my studies included the writings of Rousseau, Piaget, Pavlov and such more recent icons as Denis Lawton. In other words, a knowledge of child development was considered to be an essential requirement for a teacher. No longer, it would seem.

Lastly, the “regional commissioners” will bring in new policies on “classroom discipline, uniform standards and homework”. I have no problem with the first of these, except that I have always believed that if a teacher can capture the imagination of children in class, behaviour will not be a problem. Perhaps my previous eight years as a policeman helped somewhat. Again, I have never been a fan of school uniform or homework; the best education relies, as ever, on the quality of teaching in the classroom. I have no doubt that I will be considered an idealist by many of your readers.

The type of school envisaged by Cameron is taking us ever backwards to a grey, standard Dotheboys Hall.
Harry Galbraith
Peel, Isle of Man

• As a teacher who retired after 38 years in the classroom, I have been giving some thought to Tristram Hunt’s idea of a “teaching oath” (Martin Rowson’s cartoon, 13 October; Stuart Heritage, G2, 14 October). May I suggest the following:

I swear always to do my best to raise the standard of education for all my pupils so they can achieve their fullest potential. In doing this I shall:
a) Campaign to bring the 3.5 million children out of poverty so that they may be able to focus on learning rather than worrying about their next meal or where they are going to live.
b) Refuse to implement any government policy which has not been rigorously piloted and found to raise educational achievement by independent researchers.
c) Not spend hours going to meetings or training sessions that do nothing to improve my performance as a teacher so that I may stand a chance of being awake, alert and teaching at my most inspirational throughout the day.
d) Care about the wellbeing of all in the school community so that together we can work for the benefit of all, but particularly the children.
e) Allow myself time to think about and develop my subject knowledge and reflect on my practice as a teacher so that I may continue to improve my skills.
f) Not live in fear of Ofsted nor performance-related pay, for they are sticks and carrots I do not need to be a good teacher, for I am happiest when I know my pupils are happy and learning.

I would like to think Mr Hunt would agree with me, but somehow I doubt it!
Richard Stainer
Bradfield St George, Suffolk

• I am old enough to have taught in primary and secondary modern schools in the West Riding in the 1950s. Children often came to school undernourished, and explanations of school absence such as “He’s got no shoes this week” were not uncommon. At least in those days we had an Educational Welfare Service, and shoes and clothing could be provided. I thought all that was long gone. Now I read Louise Tickle’s article (Food, clothes, transport, beds, ovens: the aid schools are giving UK pupils, 14 October). And yet we have the scandalous waste of money that is the free school programme, some of whose bizarre results are mentioned in the same edition (Speed read, 14 October). Do we still have an independent inspectorate? What do they look at?
John Thorley
Milnthorpe, Cumbria

• It is interesting to read about another “teaching guru”, Doug Lemov, tempting aspiring teachers to learn from his experiences (American who wrote the latest classroom bible, 13 October). On the same page is a half-page advertisement for people to train as maths teachers, with a “£25k tax-free” incentive.

Lemov appears to offer little to help stop the 40% of teachers who are currently leaving the profession in their first five years of teaching (costing taxpayers to train more to replace them). He does acknowledge that “teachers soldier on in anonymity, we never honour them”.

Why do so many teachers enter the profession, often with high aspirations of making a real difference, only to burn out within five years? Have public perceptions of what makes a good teacher been unrealistically painted by politicians, Ofsted, and the media?

Parents are told good teachers mark books regularly (weekly), teach inspirational lessons, set homework, analyse pupil data to inform teaching and keep their knowledge up to date. A secondary school history teacher might thus expect to spend over 20 hours marking books and giving feedback, 10 hours preparing lessons (including use of data), on top of a 40-hour week in school. This does not include meetings or parent consultations. A conservative estimate of doing a good job means spending 70 hours per week.

It’s a wonder it takes young teachers five years to realise there is more to life than appeasing Ofsted.
Jenny Page (retired maths teacher)
Newton Poppleford, Devon

Pro-Palestine supporter outside parliament in London Show of support for recognition of a Palestinian state outside the Houses of Parliament, 13 October 2014. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

I watched the entire House of Commons debate on a motion to recognise a Palestinian state on Monday night, then read your report the next morning. It was as if your reporters were describing a different occasion. In just over 100 lines, you gave 38 lines to the admittedly significant change of heart by Conservative Richard Ottaway; five lines to the anti-recognition sentiments of Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind; 17 lines to the largely incoherent speech of an Israel supporter, Conservative MP James Clappison; and 21 to the rather measured words in support of the motion by Jack Straw. What was missing was any reference to the 40 or so passionate speeches by MPs of all parties condemning the decades of injustice, suffering and deaths imposed on the Palestinians by Israel, and calling for the British government to pressure Israel directly rather than make ineffectual statements of mild criticism from time to time. Although your paper presumably went to press before the vote, it was clear from the beginning of the debate that the House was overwhelmingly supportive of statehood for Palestine, and yet you hardly mentioned the arguments in favour, even those made by the proposer Grahame Morris, quoting one short phrase from his speech. As it was, the vote was an overwhelming 274 in favour of the motion and only 12 against, but no one would have guessed that outcome from your coverage of the debate.
Karl Sabbagh
Author, Palestine: A Personal History

• Will the House be equitable and propose a motion that those who support the concept of the Palestinian state recognise the existence and right to exist of the state of Israel?

No other UN member state has to continually argue its right to exist. So will the House demand the unequivocal recognition without further debate of Israel by other UN member states (specifically Arab states)? And will it condemn the terrorist organisation Hamas and promise that only when such organisations are removed from the Palestinian political landscape can Britain recognise the legitimacy of a Palestinian state?
Stephen Spencer Ryde

• Having lent credibility to the Palestinian terrorists, British MPs should now be ready to do the same for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sikhs in India, Kashmiris in Kashmir, Kurds in northern Iraq, Baluchis and Sindhis in Pakistan and so on.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

Tory MP Richard Ottaway nobly changes his opinion about Israel and admits that the Holocaust had had a “deep impact” on him after the second world war . He doesn’t mention the impact on Palestinian Arabs when Jews changed from victims to aggressors in 1948 and arrived with the armed terrorist group Irgun at their head to eject 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and into exile, where they or their descendants continue to fruitlessly wave their title deeds. It is precisely this kind of one-eyed amnesia from the west that continues to enrage even moderate Arab opinion and is a contributory factor to Middle East terrorism.
David Redshaw

• Patrick Wintour mentions a “carefully constructed Labour foreign policy towards Israel”. If he knows what this policy is perhaps he could enlighten your readers!
Doug Simpson
Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Conservative Party Conference Held In Birmingham - Day 3 Boris Johnson, who will be giving the opening keynote speech at the Mipim property fair in London, holds a house brick aloft as he addresses the Conservative party conference on 30 September 2014. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

This week the Mipim property fair is in London (Opinion, 14 October). A breeding ground for property developers, investment bankers, landlords and sellout politicians, Mipim represents the celebration of a housing system that puts concerns of profit over people’s right to a decent home. At a time when the UK housing crisis is causing homelessness, driving people out of social housing – such as the E15 mums – and forcing up rents for everyone, London mayor Boris Johnson will be giving Mipim’s opening keynote speech. We feel that no mayor of London should be attending this event and instead support the counter conference and mobilisation that has been organised to defend cities for people rather than profit. It is time to move away from treating houses purely as financial assets to be shuffled around for maximum gain and instead ensure that we provide affordable homes that meet people’s needs.
Jasmine Stone E15 Mums
Natalie Bennett Green party leader
Grahame MorrisMP Labour, Easington
John McDonnell MP Labour, Hayes & Harlington
Jeremy Corbyn MP Labour, Islington North
Cllr Rabina Khan Cabinet member for housing, London borough of Tower Hamlets
David Graeber London School of Economics
Darren Johnson Green party London Assembly member
Dave Wetzel Labour Land Campaign
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Alistair Murray Housing Justice
Doug Thorpe Left Unity
Anna Minton Author, Ground Control
Rueben Taylor Radical Housing Network
Eileen Short Defend Council Housing
Pete Kavanagh Unite London and Eastern Region, regional secretary
Paul Kershaw Unite housing workers chair
Heather Kennedy Digs – Hackney Renters
Rachel Haines Southbank Centre Unite branch
Gerry Morrissey Bectu general secretary
Bella Hardwick Save Earls Court Supporters Club
Zaher Aarif Haringey Housing Action Group
Joseph Blake Squash Campaign
Liz Wyatt Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
Christine Haigh Lambeth Renters
Liliana Dmitrovic People’s Republic of Southwark
Nic Lane Brent Housing Action
Alex Finnie Our West Hendon

• The picture painted by Aditya Chakrabortty is not one which people working to regenerate Britain’s cities and towns would recognise. For 25 years – and this week in the UK for the first time – Mipim has brought together public- and private-sector experts and contributed to the urban renaissance across the UK. The revival of towns and cities ranging from London boroughs to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds is admired around the world, and Mipim is proud to have played a part. Far from lacking in transparency, Mipim welcomes open discussion on all topics, from affordable housing to urban development, from green building to the well-being of all city dwellers. No other forum is so effective as a meeting place for cities and towns, and the listed property companies and pension funds who, by working in partnership, set standards around the world. Perhaps that’s why visitors from Asia and the Americas’ biggest cities travel to Mipim – to learn best practice which they can then use at home. We look forward to Aditya Chakrabortty accepting an invitation to attend Mipim UK this week to see what really goes on.
Peter Rhodes
Reed Midem UK

• Zoe Williams , 13 October) takes up the important point of rich foreigners buying up swaths of property, particularly in London. We spend far too much time worrying about less well-off hard working people form foreign lands coming into our country, rather than rich ones buying property and not properly contributing to the economy. Non-EU people or companies should pay an annual land tax on any freehold or long leasehold property that they acquire. Property is in short supply in Britain and there is not enough for the world to buy here. The tax would be easy to administer, not require a valuation by the hard-pressed district valuer’s office and yield a contribution from people who can easily afford to contribute to the services of this country. Those from abroad who do not want to pay can free up property for us British people.
Neil Spurrier
Twickenham, Middlesex

Overpaid, oversexed (allegedly) and now overexposed in your newspaper. Bad enough to have to see Russell Brand’s witterings in Weekend (11 October), but he gets another airing this week (G2, 13 October). Stop it, please, his views are irrelevant and puerile.
Jane Ghosh

• Russell Brand is becoming as ubiquitous as Tracey Emin and Stephen Fry. Could we not have a moratorium on those dreary individuals?
JMY Simpson

• Les Bright, Paul Nicolson and Keith Flett (Letters, 14 October). Is the Guardian pursuing a core letter-writers strategy (Open door, 13 October)?
Jeremy Cushing

Letters pic The route to secession? Photograph: Gary Kempston

Danger of drawing borders

We Anglophile Europeans have difficulties persuading our compatriots that British people are not as insular as often depicted, but the Scottish referendum and your seven pages of coverage on it undermine our efforts with the glaring absence of a European perspective (26 September). I’m not referring to the compatibility of British arrangements with EU laws or an independent Scotland in the EU. The problem is much deeper: Europeans have been killing each other for generations on the question of borders, on the alleged right of “cultural nations” to have an independent state. After the second world war, things were sorted out in western Europe but not in the eastern bloc, where we have recently seen the results in ethnic cleansing and mass graves. By all means Britain must solve constitutional problems, but it mustn’t awaken the spectre of ethnic rearrangement.

The contention that democratic voting is always good is a naive bromide: in my Basque country the very suggestion of such a vote a few years back created social divisions whose scars are still being nursed. Basque nationalists have been drooling with envy for the Scottish referendum and though disappointed with the result still consider it a milestone on the route to secession.

There is such a thing as a European project, even if Britons cannot decide whether to join it, and drawing new frontier lines on the map certainly goes against it. European leaders ought to stop pretending these are internal matters: they engage the heart of Europe. After the lessons we thought we had learned from history, the sight of David Cameron, a western European leader, giving a veneer of respectability to tribalism, is appalling.
Anton Digon
Vitoria, Spain

• Alexandra Jones of research unit Centre for Cities argues that further devolution is “all about galvanising urban hubs” like those in Lancashire and Yorkshire (26 September). But what about the rural sector? On a visit to my ancestral homeland I was disconcerted to hear a Cornishman say he had just “taken a break in England”, which for him is a foreign land across the river Tamar.

Under English rule Cornwall has become one of the most deprived regions. Further devolution might be similarly attractive in parts of Wales, whose union goes right back to Edward I and a later Act of Union in 1535; and we have long known that in Ulster a significant minority wants out of the UK. The Scots may be leading all the Celts to recover their identities and autonomy in Timothy Garton Ash’s “federal kingdom of Britain” (26 September).
Ren Kempthorne
Nelson, New Zealand

• You noted the challenges of asymmetrical federalism (26 September). Canada has had just such a situation for years. Quebec, which has a relatively small share of the overall population, has control of their pension plan, their healthcare and their immigration strategy. It seems to work. Support for independence is the lowest it has been in years.
Jane McCall
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

• How do you describe a vote of 55% to 45%, with a percentage margin of 10 points? According to Irvine Welsh, the “yes” side came “within a whisker of victory”. But Alberto Nardelli writes that “Scotland’s answer was a resounding no … a decisive result … and in reality nearer to a landslide”. So who is right?
Stuart McKelvie
Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

We need Human Rights Act

I am appalled and horrified by the Conservative plans for the European Convention on Human Rights (3 October). Their proposals are tantamount to saying that we will agree with the court’s judgment if we like it, if not, we will ignore it. That is no justice at all. I am equally appalled that the supposed justification is the decision to allow prisoners the right to vote. Even if you disagree with that specific ruling, the fact that a minority of our population, only 85,000, has caused the loss of fundamental rights for over 64 million people is fundamentally wrong.

These are rights which were drafted by British lawyers after the second world war, a time when it could not have been clearer that a continent wide agreement was necessary. The ECHR codified our human rights and fundamental freedoms to protect us all from the horrors that were perpetrated. Our soldiers fought and died to protect future generations from those appalling acts.

We would be complacent in the extreme if we did not think that such atrocities are behind us. Around the world in countries without such a convention, torture, police brutality, no right to a free and fair vote, education for boys and not girls, are commonplace. The Conservatives should not play politic with rights that were hard fought for us all. We should stand up now, as others did before us, to protect them.
Grace Cullen
London, UK

In a better world

Priyamvada Gopal’s piece on India’s Mars mission (3 October) notes that not only “in a better world the search for knowledge and the quest for social justice would be necessarily intertwined” but all nations would work together to achieve both goals, universally and collaboratively.

It is essential that we curb the ever more pervasive worship of privatisation, profit, competition, individualism and nationalism. All of these are solidly rooted in a culture of permanent war.

We urgently need to acknowledge that only by working together do we stand a chance to save our civilisation and maybe start to improve it.

In fact, if we do not resurrect community spirit, our dominion on earth will destroy all of us, and Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “there is no such a thing as society” will become a reality to the point that there will not be humanity.
Bruna Nota
Toronto, Canada

We are able to adapt

What a dreadful picture Paul Verhaeghe (3 October) paints of our put-upon, post-industrial selves, the hapless victims of a “meritocratic neoliberalism [which] favours certain personality traits and penalises others”, such as “emotional commitment” or “thinking independently”. In short, he says that our fiercely competitive economy is “bringing out the worst in us”.

Not only have the nice guys finished last, but the bad guys are certifiable psychopaths. What Verhaeghe does not seem to take into account, however, in his sweeping condemnation of the sheep we have all become, is that some of us are trying to adapt, using whatever emotional intelligence we have left. As one wise man once said, “Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.”

Now that is independent thinking, an option that Verhaeghe implies we no longer possess.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

Celebrating Ursula K Le Guin

Hallelujah to Alison Flood’s celebration of Ursula K Le Guin (Elegant, popular and enduring, 26 September). I’ve been reading and rereading this remarkable woman with untrammelled delight for 40 years. There are so many gifts in her work: perfect pitch for language; endless curiosity and concomitant willingness to be wrong; humour; fine-honed, stellar imagination; the ecology – boundless, intricate, evolving – of her mythic universes, Earthsea and Hain; passion and compassion; a fierce commitment to justice and truth; and a grappling with fundamentalism, particularly patriarchy and war, in all its odium.

And like fireflies all through her work are the aphorisms: “When the word becomes not sword but shuttle” (Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences); “If power were trust …” (Tehanu); “They didn’t rule, they only blighted” (City of Illusions); “Belief is the wound that knowledge heals” (The Telling); “…because he didn’t seek for dominance, he was indomitable” (The Dispossessed); “the verb ‘to be rich’ is the same as the verb ‘to give’” (Always Coming Home).

It’s an honour to share a galaxy with her.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

New Zealand lurches to right

Bronwyn Sherman repeats the kind of tired political frame that actively helped John Key to keep power in last month’s New Zealand election (Reply, 3 October). The government’s apologists consistently miscast the message of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. These disturbingly well-informed specialists warned eloquently of the dangers of current massive government electronic snooping on New Zealand’s citizens.

So in a mixture of rightwing recasting of critical commentary and consciously ignoring major issues, they created a mood that carefully supports the rightward lurch of New Zealand politics over the last decade. The fact that it was foreigners bringing the bad news fed cheerfully into New Zealanders’ defensive rejection of outsiders, when we don’t want to hear the message.
David Cooke
Auckland, New Zealand


• You quote a Rome-based professor of theology: “the Catholic church doesn’t recognise divorce, so those individuals are still married … in the eyes of Christ” (3 October). True, if Christ were guided by the Catholic church rather than, as others might hope, the other way round.
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• Come back, Saddam: all is forgiven (Iraq air strikes, 3 October).
David Coy
Hamilton, New Zealand

Please send letters to


The letter by senior military and political leaders in Tuesday’s Independent drawing attention to our collective neglect of the problems in northern Nigeria is timely and welcome. Boko Haram is rightly and universally condemned for its savagery, and particularly for the truly shocking kidnap of 276 teenage schoolgirls six months ago.

However, before endorsing a military rescue of these poor children it is important to recognise the background in which these kidnappings took place. I recently briefly worked as an obstetrician for Médecins sans Frontières in northern Nigeria and was surprised to find that the average age that girls marry in that region is 15 years.

The local fundamentalist tradition is that girls are given in arranged marriages shortly after puberty, often against their will, to older men. The median age difference between girls and their spouses is 12 years. Sixteen per cent of the girls have given birth by 15 and almost 60 per cent by the age of 18.

Once married they may live in purdah. This involves the strict enforcement of seclusion rules. They are expected to remain indoors except in extreme circumstances, and when they do go out with their husband’s permission they must be completely covered by a hijab and escorted. Muslim Hausa women in northern Nigeria consider purdah and wearing the veil as important symbols of Islamic identity.

Removing 15-year-old girls from their family and marrying them off is therefore accepted as normal in this part of the world. Boko Haram’s kidnapping was therefore an enormously effective publicity stunt but was otherwise just an extreme and violent variant of what is commonplace and accepted there. Their view is that these girls should not be in schools receiving “evil western education” but should be married and bearing children.

Attempts to find the girls by military action might therefore be extremely difficult. Many of them may now already be in formal marital relations. There are many thousands of young women in this society who have been displaced from their families often against their will and have suffered similar if less violent fates to that being endured by their more famous kidnapped compatriots. Finding the kidnapped girls will be challenging, dangerous and possibly even counter-productive.

Professor Ray Garry MD FRCOG FRANZCOG
Guisborough, North Yorkshire

I strongly endorse the call for international action, including by Commonwealth governments, to support Nigeria against Boko Haram and seek the release  of the kidnapped girls.

In June the Commonwealth Local Government Forum board met in Abuja and pledged solidarity with our Nigerian colleagues. Local government is in the forefront in dealing with emergencies, whether terrorism, like the 2005 London bombings, or the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Empowering local communities and ensuring they have the necessary on-the-ground capacity is therefore a vital component in defeating insurgents and mounting a rapid response to any emergency.

Carl Wright 
Commonwealth Local Government Forum,
London WC2


Of course we can afford the NHS

Congratulations on your excellent series of articles on the NHS. I am sick of the argument that we cannot afford a fully comprehensive health service, and that we are now a more “expensive” population because we are more numerous and have the temerity to live longer.

The NHS was created at a time when this country had never been poorer in modern times. In 1946, the population suffered from endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and polio, and contained the veterans of two world wars, mutilated in mind and body.

I remember the red blankets in a children’s isolation ward – red because when the tubercular patients coughed up blood, it was less frightening.

I remember the queues of miners waiting outside the “silicosis board”, where those with permanently damaged lungs waited to be assessed,

There were still wards full of shell-shocked soldiers hidden away from society, still streets with malnourished children suffering from rickets and head-lice.

Treatment for all this was paid for by a country practically on its knees at the end of the Second World War, bankrupted and exhausted, a population which had long forgotten personal luxuries.

We are a rich country now. Though we have a different set of health problems, of course we can afford to keep the NHS fully funded by taxing superfluous wealth. The Labour Party needs the guts to say so.

Jane Jakeman

As I stood outside Worthing hospital in the rain with the NHS staff picket on Monday morning I was struck by just how much support there was for this strike among the passing people of Worthing. Eight out of 10 passing cars beeped their horns in support.

It seems that the public share with the striking NHS staff the utter confusion over why incompetent politicians ruining the NHS through an unnecessary privatisation should get a 10 per cent pay rise while those saving lives don’t even get 1 per cent.

Dr Carl Walker
Worthing, West Sussex


Ukip joins the TV debate

So, having had an MP elected last week, Ukip has been promised inclusion in the leaders’ televised debates in next year’s general election; but no such promise has been made to the Green Party, which had its MP elected in May 2010.

Is this an example of what Tories claim is the BBC’s left-wing bias?

Pete Dorey

John Curtice (11 October) is wrong to state that “Ukip is undoubtedly taking votes from all parties.” The Green vote in both Clacton and Heywood and Middleton went up.

R F Stearn
Stowmarket, Suffolk

Coalition prevented a Tory government

Michael Ayton (letter, 11 October) posits an interesting but ultimately unconvincing counter-factual claim.

A minority Conservative administration in 2010 would not have endured for long. Within months the country would have faced a second general election, just as was the case in 1974. The result almost certainly would have been a majority Tory government. In the meantime, the vigilantes in the bond markets would have had a field day.

His argument also fails to take account of the consensus between the Conservatives and Labour on issues such as raising student fees. Under a minority Conservative government we would not have seen the compromises that have given us a graduate tax in all but name.

Those of us who remember the 1980s realise that the Coalition Government has been of a very different hue. Who, for example, would have thought that the overseas aid budget would have survived?

John Gossage
Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire


Invaders from Europe

Thank you for underlining the dangers posed to us by the swarms of aliens invading our shores, many from Central Europe (“Alien species could cause an ‘environmental catastrophe’ ”, 13 October).

In your words, not mine, they are thieves and killers, they destroy our economy and, adding insult to injury, they smell. The photo you publish speaks volumes: reptilian eyes, lascivious lips, fangs, a moustachioed beast!

You describe how they are encamped across the Channel, poised to invade and transform our beloved Thames into a ghastly recreation of the Caspian! Gone for ever will be the days of old maids cycling past the rhododendrons to the pub for a pint of warm bitter and an unfiltered Players. No! It will be cheeky girls on mopeds with an e-cigarette in their pouting lips going to the discotheque for vodka!

Sean Nee

Worry over ‘psychic nights’

Simon Usborne’s article on Sally Morgan (11 October) resonated very deeply with a local concern on the estate where I live.

This relates to a series of “Psychic Nights” being promoted here by the local housing association. When I questioned the wisdom of this the official concerned seemed genuinely surprised.

As someone who values rational thinking I welcome the “psychic awareness month” that has been launched by the Good Thinking Society. With “new ageism” rife in the land we need all the help we can to retain clear thinking about spiritual matters.

The Rev Andrew McLuskey
Stanwell, Surrey

Why did the TV psychic Sally Morgan fail to foresee the homophobic behaviour of her husband and son-in-law (report, 14 October)?

Dr Alex May



Sir, As a non-executive director in a primary care trust a few years ago, it became abundantly clear that our 2 per cent budget deficit was nothing compared to the waste that an NHS reform would bring with it. We were just getting to grips with our task and making plans for our predominantly rural patch when structural reform was announced and we were discarded. Waste in the NHS does not stem from within; it stems from the here-today gone-tomorrow nature of the senior government role ascribed to the NHS: one of the biggest employers in the world flits from one personal aggrandisement project to another. The best change ever for the NHS at any one time would be to leave it as it is. Allow proper management to flourish, rather than change management.
Jonathan Duckworth
Nailsworth, Glos

Sir, The NHS is in yet another funding crisis, aggravated by uninformed political interference — and inevitable, too, as experience has shown that medical inflation is about three times that of general inflation. It is not realistic to continue with a comprehensive and free NHS that will bankrupt the country. The choice is between rationing the service or charging the patient, or a combination of these.
Julian Neely
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, NHS reform is necessary. My disappointment is not with the government but with health service professionals whose response to proposals for change seems restricted to criticism of anything that threatens their vested interests.
John Nairn
Brookmans Park, Herts

Sir, Should we be puzzled to read that David Cameron and George Osborne failed to realise the extent of Andrew Lansley’s plans for reorganising the NHS (“NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”, Oct 13), when these plans were so huge that they were described by the chief executive of NHS England as “visible from space”? Both prime minister and chancellor need to distance themselves from the damage done to the NHS as the election nears. However, if this means claiming that they did not understand Mr Lansley’s plans, or did not spot what he was doing, they have to accept that they are not fit to govern.
Dr Jan Savage
London E1

Sir, At the moment when one is most likely to need the NHS, retirees such as myself become exempt from National Insurance contributions, part of which is a premium towards a health insurance policy. We need a fair system whereby older people support each other by helping to fund this wonderful service.
Neil Kobish
Barnet, Herts

Sir, Last Friday my wife was admitted to a hospital that is run under a PFI contract. I am an expert on PFI and it was clear that many aspects of facilities management were not being delivered to the standard I would have expected. Whoever is at fault for this — the contractors, administrators or both — the taxpayer is paying for a service they are not receiving.
Tony Clarke
Great Dunmow, Essex

Sir, Targets, intrusive inexpert management and the European working time directive have all contributed to a deterioration in seamless patient care and the training of junior hospital doctors.
Stuart L Stanton
Emeritus Professor of Gynaecology, University of London

Sir, How depressing to read the various versions of “I told you so” from members of the NHS workforce (letters, Oct 14). That such comments were also laced with complaints about pay and sniping at private provision is even more sad. Since elements of the workforce have opposed pretty well all changes to “their” NHS, there will probably be more such letters in future. To blame politicians is a lame excuse. To blame a shortage of money is just laziness. They need to be more creative and adaptive over ideas for change.
Peter Cobb
Tring, Herts

Sir, I was a non-executive director of the former Buckinghamshire Hospital Trust for eight years. Despite all our best efforts and training, I believe that neither myself nor other nonexecutive directors made any impact on decision-making. What we did do was absorb the time and energy of professionals who would have been better off running the hospitals. There are a lot of good things about the NHS and the dedication of staff is one of them. My suggestion is that to save money and move the organisation forwards, a new look at the governance structure is necessary.
Jane Bramwell
Rottingdean, E Sussex

Sir, It is worrying to read of the inconsistencies in care in hospitals (“The good, the bad and the ugly”, Oct 14). In the latest national cancer patient experience survey, 10 per cent of breast cancer patients reported that their doctors talked to them as if they were not there, and 12 per cent stated that their doctor did not deliver their diagnosis sensitively. For those living with secondary breast cancer, which cannot be cured, we know that inconsistencies in care are particularly distressing. We want the best breast cancer care and for secondary breast cancer to be a priority.
Diana Jupp
Director of Services and Campaigns, Breast Cancer Care

Sir, Of all the acknowledged truths about the NHS, that we are short of nurses must stand at the forefront. Training young people to nurse has to be good for society; not just filling nursing posts as at present, but knowing how to look after old and young in the community. It is an investment that will benefit us all.
Dr Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts

Sir, Why should we celebrate the fact that the “NHS is treating more patients than ever before”? (“Protecting the NHS”, leading article, Oct 13). Shouldn’t we wish for fewer patients?
Nicholas Norwell
Newbury, Berks

Sir, Mention of Balfron Tower (letter, Oct 14) reminds me of the importance of these high-rise homes to people in the Fifties. My sister was doing her teacher-training in an East End school and one little girl gave her “news” to the class a day after being moved from substandard accommodation. She said: “We have a lavatory — in a bathroom — which is just for us; me and my mum and dad. And I go to bed in a room which is mine, just for me, and I looked out of the window and all I could see was fairyland.”
Patricia White

Sir, Despite the doubts that ebola will enter the country via an airport, by installing screening the government seems determined to reassure the public that something is being done. Surely it is more likely that an ebola carrier will enter this country illegally in the back of a lorry? During their journey, illegal migrants can suffer horrendous sanitary conditions. They are often placed in crowded vehicles or boats for long periods of time. The nature of their journey and the travel times all point to this being the most likely vector of entry for this virus. Having arrived here in such a manner, it has to be assumed that few would come forward until their symptoms were advanced. While the NHS may be gearing up to prevent an outbreak, a practical approach has to be taken to protect police officers, border agency and immigration staff. Surely Cobra will have considered how to reinforce our porous borders, or is the Ukip bandwagon preventing sensible discussion of the matter?
F Donnelly
Stoke Poges, Bucks

Sir, Is it too much to hope that those who could make a difference to the planet’s response to ebola — Obama? Xi Jinping? — show world leadership before matters get out of hand?
Lars Mouritzen
London W2

Sir, I do hope that the plans of the health secretary Jeremy Hunt to prevent ebola from entering Britain are comforting for the nation, in view of his botched security job at the Olympics when he was sport minister.
Terry Duncan
Bridlington, E Yorks

Sir, This may help Rob Matthews (letter, Oct 10): a management consultant is someone who knows how to make love in 120 exciting, spectacular and exotic ways, but does not know any women.
David Himsworth
Filey, N Yorks

Sir, I thought a management consultant was someone to whom you lent your watch so as to enable them to tell you the time.
Tony Westhead
Amersham, Bucks

Sir, The votes here and in Sweden to recognise a Palestinian state are terrifying (“Labour backs call to recognise Palestine”, Oct 14). The Hamas charter is expressly a programme for the destruction of Israel and Jews. Hamas is not a political party seeking a two-state solution and it never has been.
Robert Willer
London EC1

Sir, It seems that a marginal majority of UK MPs (most did not turn up to the vote) support the Palestinian propaganda narrative. How little these MPs understand the Israeli mind. Far from influencing the Israeli government, this will make the Israelis listen less to the British.
Harold Miller
London NW7

Sir, The claim that Palestinian Arabs were the original inhabitants of what is now Israel is not, as Melanie Phillips writes, “historically illiterate” (“Recognising Palestine won’t promote peace”, Oct 13). Thanks to the work of the Israeli historian Benny Morris we can be clear how many of these inhabitants left their land following the 1948 war.
James Davis
London SW15


All the leaves are brown: a cobweb in the early morning mist in Richmond Park, London Photo: Getty Images

6:57AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – The best use for conkers is to place them around the house to deter spiders. As a lifelong arachnophobe, I recommend it.

Liz Howgill
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – I find bowls of conkers make good decorations. But does anyone know how to make them keep their rich, coppery glow instead of turning a dull, dark brown?

Jean Endersby
Guiseley, West Yorkshire

SIR – It is the time of year when we will read letters from those who want to keep British Summer Time permanently. May I beg them to think twice before sending them?

It would lead to mornings where fog and frost caused traffic chaos, and children in parts of the country went to school in the dark. It would be bad for business, the economy and all local services.

Let common sense prevail.

David Barlow
Cury, Cornwall

SIR – My wife, an American citizen, was denied re-entry into Britain recently because I, a UK citizen, had the temerity to ask if it would be possible for her to remain with me for the duration of my stay in Britain. This was interpreted as an attempt to obtain entrance to Britain without having the necessary pre-clearance. She was denied entry, despite being given a six-month entry permit earlier in the summer.

Contradictory advice, inability to get help from British diplomatic posts overseas and confusing terminology on the Government’s website contributed to this debacle. Were I a citizen of any other country in the European Economic Area, I would have the right to bring my wife into the country, regardless of her nationality, and she would then be able to obtain residence rights quickly and easily.

Why do UK citizens have fewer rights to bring their non-EU spouses into Britain than citizens of other EU states?

Jonathan Warner
Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

SIR – Glory, glory, Boris Johnson! He has finally listened to and understood what Ukip is saying about immigration.

Maybe he will bring his wisdom to bear on the other issues on which “kippers” are speaking with honesty and conviction.

Linda Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon

SIR – Boris Johnson “calls for quotas on EU migrants”. Is he referring to the 1.75 million British citizens who live and work in the EU but outside Britain? Should they too be subjected to a points and quota system by their host nations?

Freedom of movement works in two directions, and so do restrictions on it.

Emeritus Prof Nicholas Boyle
Magdalene College, Cambridge

Celebrity reputations

SIR – I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Hawkins. Naming alleged perpetrators, without formal charges being brought, must cause the individuals concerned potentially irreparable damage to their characters and reputations, without recourse.

If the Crown Prosecution Service believes it has sufficient evidence to prosecute, it should proceed to a trial. Other victims are more likely to come forward following a conviction, rather than unproven allegations.

If victims are, quite rightly, given anonymity pending trial, then the accused should be afforded the same courtesy.

Ian Melville

Subsidised wind power

SIR – The fortunate landowner Robin Hanbury-Tenison can only enjoy the fruits of his £60,000 investment in wind energy thanks to my 91-year-old mother (and millions like her) getting by on a pension and paying him ridiculous subsidies through utility bills for the energy he generates, which may not even be available when the grid needs it.

Ian Goddard
Wickham, Hampshire

Expiring underpants

SIR – After more than 40 years in general practice I can confidently assert that the spectacle of the typical Englishman in his underwear is little short of tragic. Retailers should put a use-by date in their products.

Incidentally, although I live in Norfolk, I do not wear Y-fronts.

Dr David Bryce

Ebola: can we avoid an outbreak in Britain? Photo: Rex Features

6:59AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – I am writing from a London teaching hospital where there are no signs in the A&E waiting room advising anyone presenting with a history of travel to west Africa to make themselves known to staff, or better yet to go home and call a helpline. In fact, nobody has yet seen fit to instigate such a helpline or home assessment by specialist teams.

A virus that could burn itself out in Africa would have no chance to do so in London because of the population density. An outbreak (and subsequent imposition of martial law) in London would cost hundreds of billions of pounds, but the cost of basic measures just millions.

Dr Alexander Barber
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – The Department of Health’s over-reaction to bird flu and the subsequent money wasted on Tamiflu should not make us complacent about Ebola.

Its arrival in Britain is almost certain, but not necessarily from west Africa. The worst outcome would be a significant outbreak in rural areas of Eastern Europe that have little epidemiological experience and a migrant workforce.

Dr Robert J Leeming
Balsall Common, Warwickshire

Short man syndrome

SIR – The suggestion by Boris Johnson that Sir Winston Churchill was afflicted with “short man syndrome” is preposterous. Churchill, at 5ft 8in, was at least two inches taller than the average British male of his generation.

Hitler was also taller than average and it is doubtful if his madness was induced by lack of inches.

Every tyrant of short statute can be paired with a tall one, such as Edward II, the Hammer of the Scots, or Henry VIII, both of whom stood well over 6ft.

Alexander Johnston
Syston, Leicestershire

Chewed-up roads

SIR – I am currently witnessing the failure of an attempted repair that was made with some form of instant tarmacadam porridge less than two months ago.

I also recently observed a gang of operatives endeavouring, and largely failing, to remove chewing gum from the pavement.

Why do they not repair the holes in the roads with used chewing gum?

Tom Richardson
Colchester, Essex

War on Terror: organisation and equipment issues must be addressed Photo: REX

11:29AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – The former chief of defence staff bemoans the drastic pruning of Britain’s Armed Forces in the face of current threats, but the problem is as much about organisation and equipment as it is about numbers.

Giant aircraft carriers and sophisticated Typhoon fighters are not much use against religious fanatics and terrorist organisations. Using an expensive smart missile to take out a pick-up truck sporting a mounted machine gun seems neither proportionate nor cost-effective.

The Israelis discovered in Gaza that a massive air assault may be technically impressive but it is largely ineffective against flexible and ruthless terrorists and risks many innocent lives, as well as outraging public opinion.

We have a wealth of experience of counter-insurgency operations, and the answer has always been a combination of intelligence gathering, extensive investment in winning hearts and minds, appropriate air support and, yes, boots on the ground in sufficient numbers and for sufficient time to both achieve and sustain the desired outcome.

The same principles apply now, albeit in the context of an international coalition and the need for the whole-hearted co-operation and commitment of the host country.

Air Commodore Mike Davison (Retd)
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

SIR – I question the value of teaching a few Iraqis how to use a relatively small number of heavy machine guns in Iraq by a few British soldiers, for a short time with no “mission creep”. A politically better solution with fewer costs, and probably better training, could be given by flying a few specially selected Iraqis to Britain and training them here. They could then pass on their knowledge to their compatriots in Iraq.

On a similar subject, I wonder who accepted the task of training cadets in Afghanistan along the lines of Sandhurst. Of course we could accept only a few of the required cadets in Sandhurst to train them here, as we do now I believe, but a Sandhurst in Afghanistan will undoubtedly become an attractive target and I fear that we will suffer casualties no matter what security we put in place. We will probably have to withdraw without completing the task of providing an organisation to train Afghan officer cadets, and I only hope that we will do so before too many of our soldiers are killed or injured.

It would be interesting to know what military advice was given to the politicians, and whether any such advice was overruled.

Brigadier Philip Winchcombe (Retd)
St Mary Bourne, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – In 2005 Prof James Slevin, then president of the Royal Irish Academy, and I submitted an opinion piece to The Irish Times about the deteriorating state of Irish undergraduate education. The article was never published, but its opening sentence “Ireland’s third-level system is like a slowly sinking ship” continues to be as true today as it was then.

In real terms, core funding per student is today a small fraction of what it was when Niamh Bhreathnach abolished third-level fees in 1995.

According to a recent report by Grant Thornton, the core grant per student in third level fell by over 40 per cent in the period 2007 to 2011 alone. But long before the collapse of the Celtic Tiger the cynicism with which successive governments treated the third-level sector in general, and the universities in particular, was deeply depressing.

The recession only made things worse. The core grant has been cut and cut; student numbers have been driven ever upwards; the reintroduction of fees continues to be verboten.

The Higher Education Authority plays a game of beggar my neighbour – incentivising each university to take on more students at the expense of its peers. The request, last year, that universities take on an additional 1,250 ICT undergraduates is typical.

Universities were “invited” to bid for extra students and told that they would get €1,000 per student; only later did they find out that this money would come from the core grant – ie it would be taken from other disciplines and/or universities – yet again robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Universities have responded to this funding crisis in a variety of ways. They have raised the so-called “registration fee” as far as the Government will permit them. And they have turned to other sources of income, notably research grants, philanthropy, non-EU students and commercial activities with, it must be said, some success, particularly in the research arena. But such sources of funding do not necessarily do much to improve the lot of the undergraduate. Research bodies pay academics to do research, not third-level teaching, and philanthropists typically donate to specific projects (like a professorship or building) rather than contributing to day-to-day running costs or teaching.

The result, as any honest academic will tell you, is that undergraduate teaching receives less and less attention. Promotion is achieved through research and the ability to bring in money; third-level teaching (along with its associated administration) is a distraction.

Young academics are smart people; they can see how this particular game is played. In the circumstances it is remarkable that Irish universities have managed to sustain the rankings that they have. The slide of UCD down the rankings may have grabbed the headlines, but given the chronic deterioration in its financial situation, the sector as a whole has held up remarkably well.

Universities are not like hospitals; when funds are cut, nobody is at risk of dying; nobody will have to wait for years in pain or discomfort for an elective procedure.

But just as failure to invest in primary health care leads to much larger bills down to the road, so the failure to maintain the quality of our third-level system will cost us in the end. It is hardly a surprise that employers increasingly complain about the deteriorating quality of our graduates.

University funding has been the victim of political cowardice for a generation; it is time for a change of direction. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – The Government has taken our last slice of bread (property tax, water tax, pension fund theft) yet we rejoice when it drops a few crumbs back onto our plates. What sad drones we have become. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Charge double and then offer half off. – Yours, etc,


Westport, Co Mayo.

Sir, – Now that the troika is but a distant memory, may I ask if it is a coincidence that budget day coincided with “Global Handwashing Day”? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The allegation by the Pro Life Campaign that media outlets are “extremely biased” on the issue of abortion appears to have been given some credence within a matter of hours of the claim being made (“Pro Life Campaign criticises ‘extremely biased’ media”, October 12th). The Ipsos/MRBI poll (“Majority of voters want abortion law liberalised”, October 13th) asked respondents whether they agreed that abortion should be permissible in situations “where the foetus will not be born alive”.

An answer in the affirmative to such a question might seem uncontroversial to many people, however the fact is that in medical terms the number of babies who “will not be born alive” and who cannot survive outside the womb for any period of time, as a percentage of all those diagnosed with serious foetal abnormalities, is tiny in number.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that it is very difficult for medical professionals to assess the likelihood of survival outside the womb in the first instance. Doctors simply cannot assess whether or not a child “will not be born alive”, so therefore it will be impossible to frame a constitutional amendment or legislation which covers such an eventuality.

The vast majority of babies diagnosed with abnormalities in the womb are born alive, even if they live for only a short time. Even in cases of anencephaly, probably the most serious abnormality which can occur in the womb, 75 per cent of children diagnosed are born alive and many will live for a number of weeks.

If these facts were put to respondents for your opinion poll, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there would have been a substantial reduction in the numbers who would support abortion in such circumstances.

Why was such a misleading question put to voters in an opinion poll in the first place? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – I read with interest David McConnell’s letter (October 13th) and found myself in agreement with his sentiments. I too was brought up in a church-attending Christian family environment.

I have continued to practice my faith for most of my life to date but at this stage in my early seventies, I am finding it more difficult to continue to accept core Christian beliefs. The element of supernaturalism is chief amongst my doubts. I am at present only an occasional church attender but, like Prof McConnell, continue to enjoy the opportunity to reflect, the beauty of singing and the words of powerful oratory at times.

My strongest belief is that we were all born with a conscience and the exercising of this to do good rather than evil is the key to a fulfilled life. There is room for both religion and humanism in our world and followers of each should encourage respect. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to recent correspondence (October 14th) on the question of aid or trade, there is no argument but that trade is essential to improve the lives of the world’s poorest citizens. Almost all evidence suggests smart aid and fairer trade policies will help improve quality of life for the world’s most disadvantaged.

But in the short term, improved trading policies or even large yearly economic growth will not immediately help the most vulnerable. Trade will not educate a Syrian child spending her third year in a Lebanese refugee camp. Nor will it stop the chain of transmission of HIV from a HIV-positive pregnant woman to her baby in Malawi. Aid, or specifically emergency education and the provision of antiretroviral drugs, will. Fairer trade policies are essential but they won’t improve and save lives immediately as aid will. This combination of smart aid and more equitable trade policies will make the world safer, healthier and more prosperous for us all. – Yours, etc,



Sierra Leone.

Sir, – The old mantra of “trade not aid” may hold true for Owen Brooks (October 14th), but for most, these are not strictly separate entities. If Mr Brooks were to investigate where overseas aid is spent, he would see that a sizeable portion of Ireland’s overseas aid is spent on small-scale economic projects, helped by Irish NGOs with funding from the Irish government. He is right that countries in the global south will only be able to work themselves out of economic hardship, which is the ultimate goal of projects like these, but for this to be possible, access to funding, credit or microfinance is required. Mr Brooks may argue that trade can solve this in one fell swoop, but it is clear that this does nothing but benefit the developed countries with whom they trade at an exponentially greater rate, and thus increase the relative wealth gap between richer and poorer countries. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – I have been listening very keenly to the Government since the dramatic reshuffle in the Labour Party to identify any change in direction on issues that are causing the electorate grave concern.

As a member of the Labour party in Dublin South West, and having been a TD in 1992 and a councillor for 18 years, I consider the result of the byelection in Dublin South West a disaster for the party, simply because we are not listening to the people, especially those who supported the party down through the years.

Dublin South West is the most left-wing constituency in the country and the party has come down from 33.92 per cent in 1992 general election to 8.5 per cent in the byelection.

It is self-evident from the result that the changes in Government have not had the desired effect and the people have come to the end of their forbearance with the imposition of water charges, which is the straw that has broken the camel’s back – no matter what allowances are given, it will not be enough to buy the people’s vote. Nothing less than a complete rethink will satisfy the public. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Water charges, property taxes, pylons, gas pipelines, wind farms, incinerators, draining the Shannon – whatever gets proposed to deal with problems, we seem to be able to muster up a vocal cohort capable of claiming that every plan is an affront to our human rights, or a threat to our very existence.

Are we becoming a nation of hysterics, cheered on in our irrational stubbornness by grandstanding politicians and a sensationalist media?

The logical outcome is 200 TDs who are against pretty much everything and incapable of achieving anything. What a great centenary election 2016 will provide!

A centenary anniversary of the Rising of a nation?

More like a petulant 10-year-old having a sitdown protest because he was refused ice cream. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I have no objection in principle to paying separately for the water that I use. It makes sense in terms of broadening the tax base and in terms of conserving a vital commodity. But since we are already paying for the provision of water from general taxation, where is the consequential and corresponding reduction in general taxes that should make up for us having to pay this charge?

Indeed, as the citizens of this country will be forced for the first time to conserve water, the saving from general taxation should surely be greater than the new water charge. Why are we not being promised by the Government that we will be in fact be better off by a saving in income tax or some other tax? Could it be that there will in fact be no saving from general taxation for the citizen? Could it be that we will now be paying for water on the double and that this is just a tax on top of an existing tax?

No wonder the people have roared! – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Water is the new oil. Mega-banks such as Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup and JP Morgan are buying up water resources, engineering infrastructure and water rights worldwide. They know that, as water becomes more scarce with climate change and population growth, there are vast profits to be made. In addition, the lucrative potential of “big data” means that Irish Water, as an asset, is far more valuable with PPS numbers attached than without. Not just water, but our very identities are being commercialised without our consent.

The privatisation of water transgresses all notions of natural justice and threatens ordinary citizens with withdrawal of a life-giving resource that nobody should ever have to live in fear of losing. Privatisation of public services has repeatedly been shown to have disastrous consequences, in terms of quality of service, workers’ rights and value for money.

Any country where access to the basic prerequisites of life can only be guaranteed to the wealthy is a failed society. We elect our politicians to run the country on our behalf, to distribute resources and to ensure a minimum acceptable standard of living for all citizens. In the perennial battle between ordinary citizens and the profit-seeking corporations that seek to dominate and exploit us, we pay our politicians so we can be sure they are on our side? Are they? – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – On the subject of school admission policies favouring the children of alumni, the debate so far has been lacking a basic degree of perspective.

First, let us discard the notion that this is a practice exclusive to fee-paying schools: a quick scan of most school admission policies reveals it to be commonplace.

Second, there is a common misconception that these schools are wall-to-wall with children of past pupils, while other prospective students find it impossible to gain admission. This is simply not the case. Taking an example from our English neighbours, even at Eton – where this kind of policy is at the very core of the school’s ethos – children of past pupils make up only approximately 25 per cent of the student base, according to figures published in the Guardian.

Without expressing an opinion either way, I do hope the debate going forward can be sensible and avoid any further stereotyping or sensationalism. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to recent correspondence, the safety of those at sea is critically dependant on the availability of reliable weather forecasts – such as those produced by Met Éireann and broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1. There are over 1,100 boats in the Irish fishing fleet under 8 metres in length. There are many small leisure boats. For various practical reasons, most small boats do not carry marine-VHF equipment to receive broadcasts from the Irish Coast Guard and thus depend on the sea area forecasts broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1 that may be received on a low-cost, portable “transistor radio”.

VHF-FM radio has a limited broadcast range at sea and may be hindered by cliffs and mountains. Longwave transmissions reach many miles out to sea, regardless of time of day or radio conditions.

The planned cessation of RTÉ Radio 1 broadcasts on the longwave radio band will result in the loss of a clear radio signal at sea all around Ireland with consequent loss of access to Met Éireann’s sea area forecasts that are produced every six hours.

Maritime safety will be put at risk unless RTÉ Radio 1 fulfils its “public service broadcasting” remit by continuing to broadcast on longwave. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Every civilised country in Europe seems to broadcast on longwave.

How much is saved by closing it down? Probably not as much as one of the radio stars gets in a year.

What is RTÉ up to? Not waving but drowning. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a member of the over-50 club, I identified with Rosita Boland’s article on this cohort of society in Saturday’s Irish Times. Am I right in thinking that an extra zero appeared erroneously in the salary earned by Noel Storey – £3,500 a year – as a messenger boy in the early 1970s (“I smoked a lot of hash, so my adolescence was quite hazy”, Weekend, October 11th)? If not a typo, I am either very envious or extremely depressed. My starting salary in 1976 was £1,000! – Yours, etc,


Howth, Dublin 13.

We are happy to confirm that Mr Storey’s recollection was reported accurately.

Irish Independent:

The Budget is the most curious piece of political theatre in the annual calendar.

Nothing else better symbolises the delusion and disconnect that characterises our democratic champions in government.

This year it takes on the significance of the phoenix, as our masters seek to seize the opportunity to rise from the economic cinders after seven years of hardship, hair-shirts, and harbingers of doom.

Well, good luck with that. Do they seriously expect us to clap them on the back and return them to office for taking less of what we already own from us; or else be eternally gratefully for allowing us to keep more of what is already ours?

The Budget has become the yardstick by which we have come to measure political performance.

That is well and good if we accept the dystopian notion that we are now an economy rather than a society. So, forget the human cost of emigration and long-term unemployment; the tax loopholes and the princelings too wealthy to have to pay their share thanks to all the State mechanisms of privilege.

Nor does it allow for the fact that Brussels has continued to view us as a minnow to be swallowed in the belly of the banking beast. Sure we took one for Team Europe, but don’t expect to get any relief on debt from Frau Merkel or even a nibble on any of the carrots dangled before us in order to secure our best-in-the-class certificates.

It has taken tens of thousands of marchers down the capital’s main thoroughfare to signal that you can’t actually fool all the people all of the time.

It is time for our leaders to leave their political bubble and get a sense of humility. Hubris demands a heavy price, a lesson Enda Kenny will have learned at the expense of John McNulty. But in the ever-spinning carousel of life, what goes around comes around.

T G Gavin, Killiney, Co Dublin

Church synod deserves praise

Mike Mahon asks if anyone finds it odd that “celibate men” are meeting to discuss family life (Irish Independent Letters, October 12) at the Vatican synod. Firstly, he therefore assumes family life is primarily about sex, otherwise celibacy is a non-issue. Priests listen to the trials and tribulations of married life in the confessional. All priests have families of their own – the ones they grew up in. Priests may have had partners prior to taking vows of celibacy. They surely have some insight into family life.

Secondly, as for the synod, one of the functions of the Church is to disseminate Catholic doctrine to Catholics. The synod is trying to ascertain why this does not seem to be happening and what can be done to make this happen. This does not necessarily mean the doctrine will change, but is to rather discuss how its importance to family life can be better communicated. There is nothing “odd” about a convocation of clergy whose job it is to discuss this.

Finally, he adds a little jibe about “men wearing skirts in public”. This is a rather tired old mantra by men who apparently can’t distinguish between a skirt, dress or cassock. If Mr Mahon asks any woman or priest I’m sure they’ll be happy to explain the difference to him.

Nick Folley, Carrigaline, Co Cork

Bono a force for good

Reading Colette Browne’s article about Bono (Irish Independent, October 13) brought the saying to mind “chewed bread is easily forgotten”. Instead of criticising Bono, we should be thankful to him and U2. Thankful for putting Ireland on the map, not just musically.

They have played many concerts here over the years and made videos in Ireland – all this led to many people getting employment as stage crews, security, food stalls and ticket sellers. Not to mention extra shifts for our gardai, extra tourists and all the tax returns that generated.

An article extolling Bono’s virtues might serve us better. We live in hope.

Seamus Keaveny, Kells, Co Meath

In defence of public servants

I have been reading with interest the various letters to the Editor concerning the pension levy as well as Martina Devlin’s excellent article (Irish Independent, October 9).

I found Marc Coleman’s contribution more caustic, especially his reference to public sector princelings. I have no doubt these princelings exist, but many retired public servants do not fit into this elite category. Are the public even aware that retired public sector workers have been paying this levy since its introduction in 2011?

I am a retired primary teacher whose  annual levy totals €2,471.30.

My total pension is less than the salary increase awarded to TDs who were elevated to the position of junior ministers.

Name and address with editor

Protest movement is not new

Dermot Ryan proclaims “a new dawn in our politics” because “thousands marched on Dublin” and “two Independent candidates” were elected to the Dail (Letters, Irish Independent, October 14). Does he not realise that those occurrences are the normal part of life in a democracy?

Does he not realise that the “loud howlings” he hears are those of various vested interests giving vent to their feelings of entitlement?

Does he not realise that the loud howlings of the marchers – for which he so enthusiastically proclaims support – are those of just another group with vested interests?

Does he not realise that it was decisions of our most powerful citizens, and not what he calls “the whims of foreigners”, which contributed to the bankrupting of this country?

There is no new dawn, just a continuation of the workings of a democracy.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

Putin is our cross to bear

I see Vladimir Putin, Russia’s presidential “New Age Tzar”, is pictured wearing a crucifix while riding a horse. Putin’s decision to wear a crucifix must be a tawdry fashion-statement.

This is because while Putin (like so many a celeb-set crucifix wearer) may think he can “walk on water” there was/is only one Man who ever did (and still can)!

And after what’s happened in Crimea, the Ukraine generally and the shooting down of MH-17 (not to mention the current threats to Hong Kong’s stability) Western apologists should never forget that Putin is ex-KGB! And that’s not “Kind Gentle Brothers”, as many former Soviets used to claim!

Howard Hutchins, Victoria, Australia

The conundrum of petrol prices

Petrol pump prices in Ireland are not far off their all-time high mark.

This coincides with a near four-year low in crude oil prices. Can anyone, petrol retailer or otherwise please explain this anomaly?

Dr Martin Ryan, Rathgar, Dublin 6

When the chips are down…

For some strange reason, the story about the man in New Mexico suing Burger King because the manager attacked him in a dispute over cold onion rings brought a tear to my eye.

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9


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